Void

Void

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7 games in 7 years

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This article is not so much for gamers, as for people who enjoy artwork in all it’s forms. The kind of people who pick up a good book and look forward to the magic how with every page they sink deeper into the wonderful world it describes. To people who like to see amazing paintings that fire up the imagination, and marvel at the beauty of sculptures or wonder in awe at amazing architectural monuments that come to us through time and across the centuries, telling stories of ages past. To people who enjoy listening to immersive music, weather classical or modern, quiet ambiental or engaging, music that moves and creates a great atmosphere. And to people that enjoy movies, with great characters and fantastic adventures, and interesting story twists.

To all these people I write, as I am sad to know that some of them still avoid games even today. Maybe it’s because they have never seen how all those things are present in (some) games of our times, made by possibly the best artists & creators of our generation. Or maybe because they say they don’t know of such games, and all they’ve seen are time wasters where people test only their reflexes or are only worth experiencing when having fun with friends. Or maybe they feel like they don’t have time for the many games, even just to pick the good ones out of the sea of mediocrity and wouldn’t know where to begin this huge field. My attempt to help is to create a list of one game to play per year. Since we are in 2017 I’ll try to thus name 7 years, from 2010 to 2016, with the current year still incomplete. If in each of these years you had experienced just this one game, I believe you would’ve already tasted something fantastic from this great new world we live in and I for one would already consider you cultured in this field where so many are sadly still illiterate. Also I am hoping that going back in time over many years, besides the fun of the journey, there will be games that anybody can play, even people with older computers, access to older consoles only, or simply people who only have a less then powerhouse laptop around to play with. I will also try to name for each year a second-best, in case the main proposed game isn’t found, doesn’t work for you or you simply would like something different… or maybe you feel you could play more than one game per year ?!?

Obviously the list is subjective and is just my best attempt and there are many other great ones, but one’s gotta start somewhere. Each of the titles I picked I think realizes something extraordinary, spectacular for that year and enduring for many years later, a unique experience that you shouldn’t miss if you are lucky enough to live in this wonderful 21st century, where magical worlds exist just for you to explore, worlds more fantastic and more real, more beautiful and more complex than the best best novels of centuries past, painted down to every detail, just inviting you to experience them.

 

This game is a great bringing to life of an old wild west type movie, managing to have a lot of interesting characters, some wonderful story twists, and to tell a moving story from the age when the American wild west was slowly beginning to be swallowed by modernity, but the old world still continued, thus having also that kind of book’s conflict between worlds and ages story.

Backup: Fallout New Vegas. It tells a retro-futuristic post apocalyptic story, the story of a messenger who unwittingly gets involved into a series of events much bigger than himself, and through his eyes you get to discover a whole world, destroyed yet abundant in opportunities, full of choices, including some quite difficult morality questions.

 

Though part of a bigger series, worry not, it’s it’s own encapsulated story and world. And yes, it’s enough to last you a whole year should this be the only game you manage to pack with yourself before you get yourself stranded on an island. The story here manages to be modular enough to allow you to go in any direction and explore anything you want in this original high fantasy world. There’s everything from major story arcs to minor series of stories, to tiny narrations told through journals of text found in lost caves you might wonder into in your curiosity imbued exploration

Backup: if you feel like travelling to the beautiful 16th century Constantinople, at the edge between the western and the Arab world, I’d invite you to try out Assassin’s Creed: Revelations while if you feel like exploring a much darker purgatory-like world and are willing to experience even atmospheric frustration Dark Souls was a gem that appeared in this year, a world in which your own struggles while playing mirror the struggles of the character in this world, all bathing in implied deep philosophical themes.

 

Creating a memorable original universe, happening in a mixture between an artistic vision of a distorted victorian industrial revolution mixing with supernatural elements, this game is remarkable in many ways. The stylized visuals with impossibly high proportions makes one feel like he’s moving through a painting at times, while the fiction creates a wholly original mythos.

Backup: Farcry 3. Essentially a brutal “growing-up” story, the game tells the experience of a group of rich spoiled young people who in their partying travels to a beautiful exotic island find themselves hostages and forced to be either victims or to fight back forgetting their civilized education. The beautiful island, complete with amazing locations and plant and wild life is just as much a character as the friends and their charismatic antagonist.

 

Yes, you’ve probably heard of these games, and if all you know of them is that lame friend who’s just enjoying driving cars and blowing up things I can understand your scepticism to see this game on a list of artistic games. But the reason despite the prejudice that I’d still put this game here as the one special game to play if through some horrible time travel accident you found yourself in 2013 (or hardware of that time) is that on top of all that simulation is built a truly memorable story, with 3 characters which each stand out in his own way. From the old movie loving, problem husband and father, middle age crisis Michael to the more than disturbing chaotic personality of Trevor each of the 3 characters has his own view of the world, and together they go through an adventure worthy of the best action movies, while still managing to have many insightful social and political commentary at modern life.

Backup: Bioshock Infinite. No longer the underwater dystopia of the original Bioshock, this new game manages to tell the story of another man made paradise went mad.

 

You know I was almost about to write down 2014 as a year where nothing truly remarkable came out. I couldn’t find it by year because this game didn’t get the best reviews due to it’s buggy launch, but now if you go back to it, and even then if, like myself, you cared more for the spirit of this almost too ambitious an attempt, I think you may find this is a truly worthy title for the year. Where else do you get to travel back in time and get to see 1789 Paris during the French revolution, complete with buildings that don’t even stand today. The story is good, but it almost pales in contrast to THE CITY, the time, the people on the streets, their clothes, the great monuments, the shouts on the street (IMHO best experienced in French should you know it). And it’s a world that keeps on giving, even past the main game and the great locations, even down to the intriguing little detective stories with subtle hints that you can solve as a total side project. But above all, the city, oh, what a city, what a time… every once in a while I jump back into this world just to wander the streets and to marvel at the beautiful churches and the dynamics of the crowd.

Backup: A split between Shadow of Mordor where you get to experience a personal nemesis simulation in the setting of the Tolkien created Lord of the Rings universe and Alien Isolation, a bringing to life of the kind of story/world that the 1979 invented in the eponymous Ridley Scott movie.

 

A world deeply rooted in the novels of the polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, worth experiencing and exploring due to the the many rich stories and multi-faceted characters. The main story arc, the many secondary and incidental stories, and even the many tens of pages in writing found in little notes and books and writings found across the world, are all worthy of literary greatness. All through one can sense the refreshment of the medieval fantasy through what to me felt like a sense of east-european scepticism and moral choices which are not of the super simplistic black and white variety, but rather often present difficult tradeoffs. Countless stories prove to be deep, for example I particularly remember that of the baron, which manages to touch on difficult themes from familial violence to alcoholism mixed with familial love, and even impossible subjects like abortion, all while keeping it’s medieval atmosphere. And should you find the game too “autumn rainy” it later (2016) even blooms in some wonderful expansions of which “Blood And Wine” particularly impressed by managing to maintain serious stories even while going to brightly coloured lands. But even without that this should be enough for the year.

Backup: Bloodborne. Here we have what may be to date the best materialization of the spirit and mythos inspired by the many wonderful books by H.P. Lovecraft, weather you take movies or games, as even cinefiles have jealously complained. The narrative is told more through experience and mystery than words, but yet one can feel the well developed mysterious lore backdrop that feels consistent even if it took a large online community to dig up the less obvious secrets.

 

For this year we have a split between these two sequels. Neither revolutionizing, or innovating enough to deserve the title alone but both polishing the ingenuity of the predecessors. Dishonored 2 continues in developing it’s universe mixing dystopian industry and magic, whie Dark Souls 3 reunites the existential themes of civilizational and philosophical cycles of it’s predecessors, in some ways polishing, while in others simply returning to roots. Should you in 2016 have had only time for one game, I’d suggest tossing a coin over which, or better choosing based on weather or not you got to experienced/enjoyed their predecessors.

Backup: Hitman. Again just a a return to old form of this Hitman’s story, but a pretty decently done one with good variety of locations and social situations.

2017 … ?

As for the year in course, 2017, we’ve already had big titles like Horizon: Zero Dawn, the story of a tribal young girl in a post-apocalyptic nature overrun world set on a path to discover what happened to earth before her birth, or Prey, a story that takes you onto a satellite research station in space in typical classic sci-fi fashion, only to discover what went wrong, imbued with themes of questioning self identity and the nature of one’s change of self through learning, in this case machine/alien enhanced sudden flash learning. But the year is young, and traditionally the best games come to us towards the end of the year often just in the holiday season, so I have greater expectations for the year to come.

Conclusion

So, this would be the list of games I would personally suggest if you had but the opportunity to play just one game per year for the past seven years. Surely others might pick others, maybe for different story themes, better gameplay, or more social involvement, and luckily we have a lot of choice, but these are my picks for creating fantastic worlds, for excelling in multiple forms of artwork, from storytelling to visuals, be it painterly or sculptural/architectural, all on the backdrop of memorable soundtracks and giving one of a kind experiences. Given this special one game per year limitation I have also chosen meatier games, games that you can sink your teeth into and chew on for a while, with worlds that you can can go into again and again, for weeks, nay months, in the knowledge that each time you go in you will be rewarded by fresh new stories to read or live, places to see and unique emotional experiences to experience.

Did you already play these games in the past years? Then I salute you with respect and look forward to many interesting conversations. If not, may I invite you into these wonderful worlds? Even if you don’t normally play games, and even should you just play one of these games per year… I believe if you give them a chance, you have 7 great years of incredible amazing experiences to look forward to! What a privilege to be living in the wonderful year of 2017!

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An encounter with fate, nay, …

 
Usual rules: 3 tries per person. Winner gets to propose a gameSketch. x5 multiplier for first timers. Newcomers: you may ask for 3 freebies even if you didn’t yet guess anything. Outstanding credits: Firefish x32, 47Crows x12, Ange, PettyX90 x7, 47Crows x7, Haikuhunter x10, Jaco x99, Pori x2, Tarpo x5, player347 x9, Diana x6, Radu x45, VideoGamesAsArt x2 , thegazer x9, BiaHawks x7, rsocu x5, Teofil S. Awaiting scenes from you guys.

 

Humble Dark Souls 2

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Wow, what a fantastic deal for this legendary game.

15 Game Companies That Went Bankrupt

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Interesting.

gameSketch 361

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Galactic trading and exploration…

Hopefully an easier one this week, as the last 3 are still unguessed.

 
Usual rules: 3 tries per person. Winner gets to propose a gameSketch. x5 multiplier for first timers. Newcomers: you may ask for 3 freebies even if you didn’t yet guess anything. Outstanding credits: 47Crows x12, Ange, PettyX90 x7, 47Crows x7, Haikuhunter x10, Jaco x98, Firefish x31, Pori x2, Tarpo x5, player347 x9, Diana x6, Radu x45, VideoGamesAsArt x2 , thegazer x9, BiaHawks x7, rsocu x5, Teofil S. Awaiting scenes from you guys.

 

Yakuza 6 Trailer

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I was hoping to see this advertised at Nintendo’s conference for the Switch…

Nintendo E3 2017 Conference

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Again I feel like I have to apologize, I don’t really get/like Nintendo, and I’m not their target audience I guess, and of course these are totally my own personal points of view and it’s totally okay that others feel otherwise, many many millions of people in fact :P With that out of the way, here’s my thoughts to the Nintendo conference with the same things in mind as the MS, Sony, Ubisoft and Ea ones:

– Reggie still looks silly to me, and age has hurt his image even more in my eyes from the original Wii times as I can’t stop looking at his strangely twitching upper lip. Plus the strange fake backgrounds…

– Not just him but others too felt like men in suits who don’t actually play games but are executives who are selling toys to kids or their parents.

-, -,  + Xenoblade Chronicles 2 looks silly to me, but feels like there might be a big world there

-, – ,  + Kirby: totally uninterested, but seems decently made and i hear there’s Kirby fans out there. Kirby’s Epic Yarn felt much more stylish to me though.

-, -, + Pokemon: not interesting but it’s nice that it’s there for those who like it and i hope it’s more indepth+story than the mobile city exploring even i tried out

+, -, – Metroid 4: great that it exists.. but JUST SOME TEXT!?!?! that was lame. This could’ve been the one game I might be excited to play on my Switch.

+, -, – Looks cute… but for 5 year olds

-, + Fire Emblem Warriors: looks silly to me, but I can imagine they’ll put lots of story and world there, even if in that style

+, + – Zelda DLC: great that they’re making it, afraid though that it might be just NG+ kind of stuff with re-threading and challenges instead of new world regions.

– Splatoon 2 : whatever (multiplayer)

+ Rabbids + Mario, they’re cute. But probably won’t make time to play it.

– Rocket Leage : whatever (multiplayer)

+, +, –  Mario Odyssey: I like the variety of the worlds, bit still don’t know if I’ll make time to play it

It says though something about my great disappointment with this year’s E3 that I actually started with hopes that Nintendo will save it, which was of course silly given my own tastes and interests for more grown up games. But overall i’d give the Nintendo conference a 2 on a -5 to 5 scale. I didn’t find anything to really excite me, nothing of the 3rd party publisher rain I was hoping for, but on the other hand I think for their own audience Nintendo probably did a decent job. I’m curious how some people who really love Nintendo felt about it.

Sony E3 2017 Conference

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-, + stage music was pretty cool, but i wanted games

+, – Uncharted Lost Legacy, looks good by itself, but a lot of “been there, done that”, with Drake and with Lara, feels very samey without the personality of Drake or the familiarity of Lara.

– sound problems in the presentation

-, + When i saw the Guerilla games logo for a moment i got excited there’s going to be a new Killzone… but then it was Horizon… which i guess is okay

– sound problems, kept switching streams, broke the immersion

+, – Days gone: looks good, and it’s nice to see gameplay, but it wasn’t as cool as the last one. I was hoping to get an open world vibe, but instead got a linear segments like Last of Us vibe

– presenter, with my lack of excitement for what was shown felt a bit pushing it with the “you should catch your breath” after stuff that didn’t feel that spectacular. Good, of course, but not breathtaking.

+ Monster hunter, some interesting setup, interesting dinosaur growth, so so world

+, – Shadow of the Colossus, for a moment i got super excited at a new game, and then same old places… still looks great, but disappointing, I wonder if they’ll get a backlash for just that/if others felt like i did.

– Marvel Vs Capcom looking silly and low fidelity to me, at least the way it was presented here.

+ Call of Duty WW2 nice that they’re making it, but looked a bit bland to me.

– VR games look so dated… and Skyrim again… loved that game, but i played it like 5 times already… how disappointing with so many presentations this oldie is still the highlight. With each one there is a little spark, but then I tend to be disappointed, and then i remind myself… oh, it’s VR quality … VR has come to mean substandard quality to me :P

– weak of Sony to not mention at all Vita or Ps3. Even a 30 second montage (say instead of that orchestra) would’ve helped their case for having a bigger platform including a mobile, but instead they let it rot.

-, +, -, –  God of war: the game could be okay in itself, but i feel they’re stepping and destroying a character they’ve crafted so well over so many great games (just finished an old one, still replaying others). In all games Kratos was portrayed as ruthless and manly casually killing innocents who simply were in his way, now he’s a father of a kid and they’re trying to project a whole new identity on him in contradiction to the old one. Add to that that all the God of War games were a cinematic experience, with brilliantly placed cameras on rails, with epic things in the background… this looks to be a diminutive whatever 3rd person hack & slash with some cheesy narrative. I feel they’ve missed what made the old games great, the fascinating and complicated Greek mythology, gone, the epic setpiece moments nad feeling of scale as you realize your whole world happens on the back of something huge, unique unlovable and yet interesting endearing protagonist, gone… instead they’ve added an old man and a kid and family drama. And instead of the fascinating greek tragic characters encountered along an epic journey, they put in a joke character. Sad for the series :( Does look interesting at times, so at least it’s going to be a high production values. Also the serpent thing was an interesting design.

+, – Detroit: interesting social tensions. The world looks very bland and generic. I’m afraid the choices will be skin deep and in fact still be a “you fail or succeed” instead of how to do things.

– Destiny 2: when it started out this game started with an original world, with old russia, with an interesting fiction. By now with all the MMO-ing it seems to have degenerated into dumb big obvious antagonist with a Warhammer vibe and loot grinding.

-, + Spiderman: there’s some nice dynamics, i think it’ll be fun to play, feels somewhat Batman Arkham City in posibilities of play, however with less coolness, more bland politically correct world. Nice environmental interactions, though who knows how few of them will be kept in the free roaming

Overall I found the Sony conference passable, nothing bad, just nothing impressive. I’d give it a 1 on a -5 to 5 scale. Decent, though far beyond what I was hoping. No price war surprise, no big surprise titles, no internal studios mega magic, no shocking 3rd party support (where’s Reddead, a new Gta or a new Elder scrolls?)… at least MS had a new console to announce… they had just games, high quality as we’ve come to expect, but nothing surprising. I’m unimpressed.

Ubisoft E3 2017 Press Conference

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+ I was impressed with the showmanship from beginning to end, pretty much all the presenters looked like interesting often impressive serious people. And the kick off the conference with a french guy and a japanese guy talking funny english, that in itself was brilliant, not to mention… wow Myamoto!!!

+, – Mario + Rabbids, quite funny stuff, made me think maybe Ubisoft will be for me that company which makes the games for Switch that I don’t trust Nintendo to do good enough, cool minions type of humor. On the downside the game itself might be a high budget Ios/Android game with branding… what it did get me thinking is how cool an Xcom game would be for the switch instead, as the gameplay seemed straight out of there

+, +, – AC origins, can’t wait to play it, nice trailer, but unlike MS conference no gameplay to speak of and more importantly I was again struck at how low-detail (animations/textures) the pedestrians in the crowds seem.

+ The Crew 2 trailer, man, so much kewl, it reminded me again why i think only Ubisoft and Blizzard have the knowhow to make such CG trailers, so professional, pacing, video, music, they make some really good trailers. Add to that the showcasing of planes and boats and and a pretty world witch I now trust them to make… lots of respect. i’m not a car guy, but to me this was sooo above all other car games at the show, to be precise the order of how much i was impressed with : The Crew >  Need for Speed > Forza in terms of what was shown at E3

+, – Skull & Bones again, maaan, they sure know how to make a cg animation. Almost movie quality. Unfortunately seems not only distant but also the kind of game i don’t care for, multiplayer-ish. Seems to me like they’ve taken the naval warfare from AC games and are applying multiplayer styles from For Honor. Great artwork but I’m not tempted to keep grinding online in clans

– Just Dance, not interested, but not as lame as last year’s push or when that was with the annoying black lady

– Starlink don’t really know what to make of it and it’s distant, but looks good

– Steep, sports stuff… whatver

-, +, + Farcry 5 I find nasty the politically correct propaganda attack on religious people and on independent minded groups but I’m sure i’ll have tons of fun in that game and looks fantastic. I don’t expect nearly as much as the awesome africa of 2 or places of 3, but still, it’ll probably be good.

+ Beyond Good and Evil 2 i gotta say i wasn’t that huge a fan of the original, unlike everybody in the world it seems, played it on the ps2, but never loved it, so I’m surprised just how much i liked this trailer. The production values, the subtleties, the character… this is truly cinema material, better maybe than the last high budget animation movies I’ve seen. They managed to drop the old characters I wasn’t super looking forward to but instead invent these new and fun ones, and all wrapped in so much “cool factor”. I’m surprised myself because I know they should qualify as “silly to me, yet i found it cool/entertaining.

Overall I’d give this conference a +3 on a -5 to 5 scale, not because I found so many great games I’m excited about, but simply because I thought they had great showmanship, pacing and all that kind of stuff. It was simply entertaining from beginning to end for me.

 

Bethesda E3 2017

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– found the beginning incredibly lame. From the kids and families to the whole badly drawn/silly Bethesdaland graphics, found it horrible. I laughed hard in approval when the very smart woman I love that I got to watch it with said whoever had this idea for the presentation should be if not fired at least moved to a whooole other department. The only way I can imagine this as justified is as a PR stunt to humanize the otherwise and disarm critics of otherwise violent games

+ Doom & Fallout 4 VR, yep, that’s a reason to consider VR! Finally full games … I’m curious if one can play them without puking.

– Elder scrolls online focusing on player reactions to a (n old) trailer, found it lame

– elder scrolls CCG, might be good, but underwhelming in this context

+, – Skyrim on switch, on one hand exciting to finally have a serious game on the console, on the other hand… presented in that silly style…

+, +, – new Dishonored content, Daud, promising story= yeaayy!!! Downside: seems like cg animation, no gameplay, no location, particularly surprising given the September launch timeframe. Not a good sign.

-, – Quake Champions (though I played the heck out of quake 3 as Anarky) damn, yet another online class based team shooter a la Overwatch, even worse instead of letting it rise or fall based on it’s merits as a game it’s presented with actors and the mandatory politically correct token woman shown winning. Game might be okay but I’m rating here the presentation so for me it was a negative.

+, +  The evil within 2: cool surprise, cool cg, lots of symbolism, multiple mood changes, at times it felt like a Alan Wake wannabe, at others like a Quantum Break attempt, and it even had some Death Stranding weird simbolism before returning to the game in which the actual gameplay/locations were a mixed bunch

+, +, + Wolfenstein 2 epic legendary from the surprise, the world, the cg, the media references, the humor, and then the great looking gameplay and environment design, all wrapped in great presentation. Simply stellar.

+ I was repeatedly surprised by all the games being for this year. Was expecting some kind of at least tease for an elder scrolls, but i understand why it’s smarter to keep the iron hot for titles which are imminent and this was of the conferences I’ve seen so far quite unique and impressive. Was there anything not launching this year?

Overall I’d give it a +3 on the impressions, great games, even if presented in what I found to be lame silly packaging.

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A rusty neo pirate lands on a lovecraftian foggy island

 
Usual rules: 3 tries per person. Winner gets to propose a gameSketch. x5 multiplier for first timers. Newcomers: you may ask for 3 freebies even if you didn’t yet guess anything. Outstanding credits: 47Crows x12, Ange, PettyX90 x7, 47Crows x7, Haikuhunter x10, Jaco x98, Firefish x31, Pori x2, Tarpo x5, player347 x9, Diana x6, Radu x45, VideoGamesAsArt x2 , thegazer x9, BiaHawks x7, rsocu x5, Teofil S. Awaiting scenes from you guys.

 

Microsoft Conference E3 2017

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– pricing on the Xbox One X : i think they’re doomed

+, – they showed a lot of games, which is something they learned from past Sony success with that, however it was vast majority indie games many of which just made me laugh when they kept putting their branding of ultra HD : you’re looking at huge pixels… NOTHING will make that smoother :P Similarly with other indie looking games, no amount of antialising will take them into the realm of realism or into that of quality pixar stuff :(

– Anthem: worst fears came through, it seems they’re going for yet another multiplayer grinder

+, –  Metro was great (a Stalker would’ve been better) but it’s not theirs

+, – I can’t wait to play the next Assassin’s Creed, but i didn’t see that huge revolution i was hoping for.. and still not MS exclusive. I was not impressed with the crowd simulation/characters in the world, though i did appreciate the environments.

– Forza they kept talking about how great it looks, looked to me just as good as the other N racing games in the last years. And not a step forward “dirty realistic world” kind of good but the same kind of super sterile “clean” graphics (eg. not approaching realism)

– Sea of Thieves… funny presentation, but so-so game & gameplay & world

– Mordor, can’t wait to play it, but not only not theirs but actually looked to me worse, more washed out and silly characters than the original. BAD signs, afraid they could sink it down the drain like they did with Watchdogs

– a lot of the titles were 2018

– the environment destruction one was not just stylized and unimpressive but they actually dared focus live acting which is always a bad sign

– they organized pretty bad, i think at some point they had like 3 games in a row which in my mind blended as they all felt like the same: the hunger games, bunch of people, who makes it last. One looked more interesting than the other but I’m not much into that and the whole push into the commentator sports i still find lame.

– hard to tell what all that extra power is used for, they didn’t have for me a single title that would make me think “wow, this physics is amazing, this water simulation is truly something i doubt any other console could do” or anything like that. And if I a graphics guy feel like that I wonder how many of the general public will care or see enough of “that amazing power” they keep talking about”. PC hardware specs people… maybe? For me I was more interested in the occasional indie game with a well done animation/art style, and i wouldn’t be surprised if many customers will notice that also more than “hey, check it out, if you reaaaaly zoom in on the edge of this car’s outline, you might if you strain your eyes see a huge difference to that care on ps4”. To me all the pixels in the world make no difference in comparison to say a more interesting public in the background with say more interesting animations/personalities.

+ Great to see them sticking to the Xbox backward compatibility, a point where Sony really screwed up massively  (multiple times already, and they’re still not admitting it). It’s at the time possibly my biggest respect point towards Microsoft.

Well, i gotta say I expected much more. I expected to give it a 2-3 at least yet in the end i thin kit’s just a 1 so with the disappointment it felt like a 0. Of course it’s not and they had good stuff, I just expected so much more. We were just itching for an excuse, any excuse really to get us to buy an Xbox One, been planning to for so long…yet we saw nothing worthy, the power was not used to any mindblowing effect, and the small differences they might or might not have is to us not counterbalanced by the asymmetric controller + sony ecosystem + all the optimizations and releases 3rd parties will make to the much bigger install base of the ps4 which unfortunately with the announced pricing and (lack of) features don’t think will be challenged. We’ll probably get one anyway… but we’ll feel bad about it :P Currently for me Quantum Break is the only thing that MS really has that I think i might care about or am at least genuinely curious.

PS: upon reconsidering the many games I am modifying the grade of my impression to 1.5 because indeed a lot of games were show. Can’t give more because I still can’t shake the impression that the presentation wasn’t that great. I found Phil Spencer rather lame and the whole aura he gave thing didn’t feel entertaining or well paced, and that despite the good games like AC shown.

How did you find it?

E3 2017: EA Press Conference

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Well, i gotta say i was a bit surprised. The biggest surprise for me was “Way out” which finally moved for me EA from “whatever, they’re just doing sports and sims” to “hmm, i might be interested”. I totally didn’t expect from those developers realistic AAA looking title that looks more serious than cute. Impressed. Plus I’m surprised and delighted at least by the surprise of  “the return of the split screen” which i totally thought was dead and buried after the many big developers who used to be big in that space which abandoned it in recent years.

The new Bioware title seemed promising also, though distant, Need 4 Speed not bad but not great either and as for the Star Wars Battlefield, I’m curious about the singleplayer campaign but I don’t really trust them that much to not put 90% of their effort into multiplayer.  All in all I found it a better than expected conference, I’d give it a 1.5 on a -5 to 5 scale (other than the expected 0 ). What did you think about it?

Why Did Hitman Fail?

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Though we as gamers got a great game and it still sold decent, I see this yet another case of business considerations destroying the game design choices and messing with the customer experience, like those devs so focused on pirating that they implement DRM that pisses off their paying customers (respect for GoG for pushing against that with business sense).

In Hitman I felt it too every time when after paying the full season pass game I was repeatedly forced against my will to connect to their servers and experience that extra wait/problems/the thus designed repetition gameplay, particularly the artificial structuring of the replays for episodic gameplay: it diminishes the value the customers get out of their gameplay. Plus in being greedy that way I think they lost a lot of potential customers which only got 1-3 episodes and never got the rest. This makes me think of games like GTA 4 & 5, granted huge games, which I hear stats say most people never finish, yet that’s no problem because 1) the people who do finish them feel they got great value 2) those who didn’t got a unique experience of a huge scale with a taste of much more. Now imagine they would’ve had monetization in the forefront (as i’d suspect they’re transitioning to), and had made chunks. Then group 1) would’ve gotten a butchered experienced, with locked areas and never become the huge advocates, and would’ve gave off worse reviews and group 2) would only buy 5-10h of gameplay because after that they already got the taste and lost interest. At least that’s what I imagine would happen. But with Hitman in particular it felt that while it was a great game by the devs, there were definitely management people there who had monetization rather than customer satisfaction as their highest priority and that could be felt in many game design influencing choices.

PS: since he mentions it in the video, yes, i’m one of those, i fully subscribe to being an admirer of the original Watch Dogs which I purchased multiple times and incredibly disappointed in how they destroyed their integrity and credibility with Watch Dogs 2 in order to make it more “mass market” (yes, you can feel that strong push, from the politically correct black hero, to the very safe subjects to dumbing it down for the masses). And I get why it’s so hard for the devs to tell, because I bought Watch Dogs 2 on preorder full price, based on the credibility of Watch Dogs 1, and yet now due to the big disappointment in 2 I will be much less likely to do that for 3 even though they might return to the origins. It’s hard for the devs to tell, similar story with Assassin’s Creed, but yet as a gamer I can tell when something is driven by a desire to make sales/get social hi-fives or a desire to create something wonderful. I’m always encouraged when I see this pattern, of the game which got the critical praise and media doesn’t sell so well as I feel there’s some justice in the universe after all and the customers are in fact smarter than the sales people take them for in recognizing a genuine thing from a quick cash push.

Design Implications of Free 2 Play

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This is to me just one of many examples of the perverse and subtly horrible consequence that free to play and MMOs have on the game design & user experience. I put them together because both have certain fundamental genetically unavoidable properties which developers repeatedly pretend don’t exist or promise that their specific games won’t suffer from them, yet due to these innate characteristics both introduce mutations into gameplay which tend to corrupt the goal of making games fun and enjoyable for the player and into something else, a building resentment monster growing under the surface, as the games logically choose not to cater to the player’s needs and joys but rather to the constraints of their genetics.

In the case of free to play of hiding monetization and thus subtly perverting the gameplay design choices, and in the case of MMOs because even if they don’t run on a subscription model they must cater to the satisfaction of not one player but many players, and thus can’t bring the fantasies and joys of one, because they must always balance for the others not to find it unfair, which cripples them. Take for example The Elder Scrolls online, a game which i think in terms of production, content, audience and pedigree has many great things, yet even when it goes back to Morrowind, with so much potential and such a big fan-base, not just the presence of the other players trivializes the experience and contradicts the narrative told but logically also subtle design decisions made for this purpose thus make the game less fun than it could’ve been.

In the cases of multiplayer we have seen over the years some better than others solutions (Dead Island/Dying Light allowed me to play singleplayer until i accidentally shattered my own immersion by lifting the curtain and seeing others in my world destroying quests, exploration and immersion), yet in the free to play arena I see things even worse, which is why I still believe the best strategy for player enjoying their experience and developers still getting their money is simply stealing the modern “free to play” naming/PR  and instead mixing it with the old demo-model, eg parts/regions which are free, and parts which are payed. This way the free parts can be designed without compromises in the experience & player satisfaction, without all those subtle perverting tweaks meant to incentivize the free to play model. Of course even doing this I can imagine differences between a bad and an excellent game as to how subtly this is done, how it takes the lessons learned in recent years from “free to play” to integrate the content in an organic way. Otherwise we end up with what I’ve seen all to many times: two radically different games hiding under the same hood, contradicting each other in design and goals.

 

The problem is ultimate in my opinion: you can’t serve two masters, and you can see that on many such games, having in different states two different and contradictory design structures. One which is fun, one which is frustrating. And ironically I’ve seen many tragedies where even the player who decides to pay hoping to return the game to a fun state no longer can because the design incentives are already so deeply baked into the cake that they can’t be eliminated. It saddened me but I actually played free to play games which were pretty good in parts, and I wanted to thank/pay the developers for that… but paying them broke the game in another way, and there were actually games in which it was logical not to pay the developers because you ruined your own experience. This I find tragic and perverse on both accounts, for the players as they are no longer sure what/when they’re buying, if they’re getting fun or frustration, and of course for the developers, as they put so much work/money/effort/development time and then don’t get adequately rewarded for their effort, and often due to logical consequences of their own designs.

 

PS: i’m playing among others Zelda: Breath of the Wild currently, and it’s a fun (if creepy) mental experiment to think of all the ways in which that game would’ve been destroyed, and all my minor complaints would’ve mutated into horrible throw the game into a junk bin, if it had been designed with free to play in mind. There too I see my theory/model being self consistent: even keeping the same amount of content, rather than pervert the whole world and experience with a free to play, adjusting the crafting/currency system and/or the monsters for grinding and micro-transactions, is to my mind a much bigger horrible evil that they could’ve done than to have the initial plateau or regions free to play but keeping the same consistent design.

 

So, spurred by that video, this has been a little essay of mine trying to put down my thoughts over the past years on the free to play model. I  think it’s hard enough to make a game that pleases the critical players… but that task is made not just much harder but possibly impossible by in essence making what is two games, with two contradicting sets of values and design choices. I find it a huge betrayal when the final game you buy is radically different than what you tried out… and yet this is what keeps happening.

I’ve seen this many times and I’m afraid I’ll see it many times more, because to paraphrase the british tv series Hustle: people like to get something for nothing, so we’ll keep giving them nothing for something.

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